By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
The Bruins will head into the 2022/2023 season, missing one of their best overall players and certainly their best defenseman, Charlie McAvoy. After the 2022 playoffs, McAvoy underwent a procedure on his left shoulder. Unfortunately, that procedure will cause him to miss the beginning of the season and will keep him out until early December at best. Someone will have to step up with this massive hole in the Bruins’ defense.
Some people may worry about the Bruins’ defensive integrity, with McAvoy missing that much time. I don’t find that to be a huge concern, though. The Bruins have been an excellent defensive team for as long as I can remember, and I think they have enough solid defensive players for Jim Montgomery to work with and put together a good structure. Having two really solid goaltenders also should help ease some of those concerns.
What concerns me is how the Bruins will make up for McAvoy’s offensive production. It is no secret that the Bruins have struggled with depth scoring for years. Typically, the blame falls on the shoulders of the guys playing in the middle six forward spots (the second and third lines). However, some of the secondary scoring comes from the blue line on the great teams in the league.
For example, let’s look at the two teams who met in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Tampa has had Victor Hedman, one of the best two-way defensemen in the world, for nearly ten years. Last season Hedman had his best offensive season, scoring 85 points. On the other side, the Avalanche had Cale Makar, one of the top players in the world right now, at any position. Makar, the Norris Trophy winner, scored 86 points this season, but he did it in only 77 games and dominated the playoffs offensively.
Those two great teams should make it clear that the Bruins need production from their defensemen to be successful. So, now we return to my original question: Where does that production come from without Charlie McAvoy? This question was also prevalent when Torey Krug left, and it seemed like the Bruins believed Matt Grzelcyk was the answer. He, too, will also be missing some time at the beginning of the season, so cross him off the list.
Hampus Lindholm will be massive for the Bruins this season, one way or another. He has every tool to be almost as good as Hedman, apart from his size. He is a great skater, has excellent vision, and can be a good defensive defenseman. If he steps up, the Bruins will not need to look as far to replace McAvoy for a few months. If he cannot step up, the Bruins might be in some trouble for a bit.
The right side is more interesting to me, though, because that is where the physical hole in the lineup left by McAvoy will be. I worry that the Bruins will try to use Connor Clifton as a McAvoy substitute, just like they did with Grzelcyk and Krug. I do not think Clifton has that in him. I believe in Clifton as a third-pair defenseman who serves a similar role as McAvoy at a lower level. Still, I do not think he can replace McAvoy for four months without noticing a difference.
I think the man to watch is Brandon Carlo. Carlo, at one point, was legitimately one of the best pure-defensive defensemen in the league. He probably is not in that conversation right now, though, after a tough season this past year. With McAvoy down, maybe Carlo gets a chance on the first pairing with Lindholm and thrives. Rather than having a guy who can hang back and a guy who can join the rush, maybe playing with an excellent two-way player like Lindholm will allow Carlo to explore his offensive game and elevate himself as a defenseman.
If Brandon Carlo can get himself going offensively and Charlie McAvoy comes back ready to go in December, the Bruins may suddenly have three fantastic two-way players on their hands. Does Carlo have what it takes to become that dependable two-way defenseman? I am not sure, but this could be the opportunity he needs to grow into a more significant role and become a more impactful player.